Regional Report Triangle January 2011
Turning learning into earning
Duke University and UNC Chapel Hill, rivals on the field and off, are once again chasing the same goal: the next Gatorade. They have launched initiatives to get lucrative ideas like the sports drink that University of Florida medical researchers created — its sales exceeded $7 billion in 2009 — out of labs and classrooms and into the marketplace. Both are tapping business for help during lean times when the budgets of both could stand a boost from licensing fees companies pay to turn research into products.
Duke recently chose a former top Microsoft executive, Kimberly Jenkins, for the new position of senior adviser to the president and provost for innovation and entrepreneurship. That same day, Carolina unveiled what it called a road map for innovation: steps to encourage and reward bright ideas, particularly those with economic potential. It hopes to raise $125 million from private sources — more than $15 million was in hand by early December — to accelerate efforts. Both universities will focus not just on such mainstays of technology transfer as pharmaceuticals and computer hardware but also on “soft” innovation — from education and the humanities.
Judith Cone’s title of special assistant to the chancellor for innovation and entrepreneurship at Carolina mirrors Jenkins’ at Duke. She has held the job about a year. “We can do this better,” she says. “All universities in the Triangle can. We want to make sure ideas don’t get lost, that they don’t stagnate and get put on a shelf.”
Private Duke and state-supported Carolina face similar pressures — budget squeezes and rising costs. Duke recently froze employee salaries through June as part of a three-year plan to save $125 million. At Chapel Hill, trustees increased tuition about 5%, and some university officials fear the legislature might cut their budgets as much as 15% for the fiscal year that begins in July.
Both universities produce millions in licensing revenue but lag state leader Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem. In the latest survey by the Deerfield, Ill.-based Association of University Technology Managers, private Wake had $95.6 million in fiscal 2009. Duke was tops in the Triangle with $19 million. N.C. State had $4.9 million in 2008, while Carolina had a mere $3.1 million.
Jenkins, who earned a Ph.D. at Duke, persuaded Microsoft founder Bill Gates to start a division for educational products, which grew into 10% of the software giant’s revenue. Also a Duke trustee, she is coordinating more than 20 programs, such as one in which students promote ideas for startups and another that helps them develop campus businesses. “We’ve always been extraordinary when it comes to innovation — both at Duke and UNC. We take ideas, we dig deep. What we haven’t done so well is to apply business expertise. We’re great at innovation, but we need to be better at entrepreneurship.”
Under the initiative she heads, the Durham university will work more with the private sector — not just to market its research and inventions but to refine or develop ideas by private companies. “We can work with them to turn them into products or services.” Duke also will accelerate development of technology and ideas by concentrating big guns from various fields. “We could, say, have genomics, biomedical engineering, chemistry and psychology collaborate to bring different perspectives to solving a problem. An industry might not have all that expertise.”
Raleigh opened its first three recharging stations — parking places with plugs for electric cars — courtesy of Cleveland-based industrial giant Eaton Corp. They would have cost the city about $3,000 each. Raleigh plans to have at least 30 by September, most of them downtown in public parking garages near N.C. State University’s Centennial Campus. Federal grants are expected to cover most of the cost. They will have 9-foot-long cords and provide electricity for free — but drivers must pay the standard parking rate, about $2 for the first hour.
RALEIGH — Windstream, a Little Rock, Ark.-based telecom, planned to buy Hosted Solutions for $310 million in December. Hosted Solutions specializes in web-hosting services for small and midsize businesses. It has 125 employees — 75 here. Few, if any, layoffs are expected.
RALEIGH — Stock Building Supply hired Jeffrey G. Rea as CEO. Rea, former president of the specialty-products group of Switzerland-based Tyco Electronics, replaced Joe Appelmann. No reason was given for his departure. The company employs 555 in the Triangle.
MORRISVILLE — nContact Surgical raised $16 million in venture capital, led by existing investor Harbert Venture Partners of Birmingham, Ala. That brings its total to $42.4 million. The money will be used to develop products that will treat heart ailments without chest incisions.
MORRISVILLE — Synteract plans to add 30 employees here by the end of next year, bringing employment to 44. The San Diego-based drug tester says the new employees will help meet the needs of East Coast clients.
DURHAM — Atlanta-based Brown Trucking bought competitor West Brother’s Transportation Services. Terms weren’t disclosed. None of West’s more than 425 employees will be laid off. The deal will increase Brown’s customer base and efficiency.